Terrorist attacks against Pakistan’s Christians, such as the assaults on two congregations in Lahore in March and the September 2013 bombing outside a Peshawar church, have put the community on edge.
For Christians in Pakistan, just like myself who grew up going to church every Sunday, and just like anywhere else in the world, churches are not only a place to worship but to socialize.
Never once have I seen any Christian stop going to church out of fear of losing his or her life. Rather, Christian attendance after the attacks has surged because believers are proud to spend their lives as servants of Christ and be remembered as martyrs for Jesus.
The rise in attacks against churches coincides with an overall increase in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Taking on terrorism is a gigantic task for a government already overwhelmed with challenges ranging from economic instability, an energy crisis, and maintaining daily law and order.
Christians make up only about 2 percent of Pakistan’s population but the state is bound by the Constitution to protect the rights of minorities. Article 36 says: “The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities.”
Unfortunately, successful assaults against churches and individual Christians make that provision nearly meaningless.
The government has provided security to various churches in major cities, but terrorist incidents in the capital cities of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtoonkhawa are evidence that government security often is not enough.
Since churches meet every Sunday, the task of security is so daunting that it appears the government is not up to the challenge.
As a result, a group of Christian men are forming a strategy to fight the threat of terrorism in Pakistan. After the attacks in March, 16 young men banded together to form a security team to defend local churches.
The inspiration behind the formation of this team is Luke 11:21 from the Bible: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe.”
The team’s goal is not to point out the government’s failings, but to defend churches.
The team began by offering its services the Shalom Presbyterian Church in Bahar Colony, Lahore, the cultural capital of the country and has since expanded to provide security at six more churches in neighboring areas.
“We are more blessed and strengthened in God day by day and we are looking forward to reach more and more churches in Lahore and other parts of the country, irrespective of the denomination,” team spokesman Waqar Peter Gill said.
Gill described individual team members’ backgrounds as coming from different fields of life: musicians, bankers, government and semi-government organization employees, computer technicians and teachers, and transportation and information services. However, they all share one commitment and that is to defend the churches.
Local police and security officials fully support the team’s mission and believe that it will increase church security by identifying suspicious people or activity near the church during service times.
Since the team members know the church members and can identify visitors, they have an advantage over police. The police work with members of the team, who have their own licensed weapons.
I also asked Gill about the effectiveness of this security team to respond to terror attacks. He told me they are seeking emergency medical staff that would be on site to help with first aid needs in case of an attack. They’re also counting on churches to request the government provide people to train the medical staff.
The initiative by this young group of the Christian men is a huge step forward to defend the churches and an act of bravery by these young Christian men. They are not security guards by profession, but their determination and perseverance to protect the churches is too strong to be shaken.
The eagerness of the team to expand their area of working in other churches would be the perfect example of unity against any threat. Their message is very clear that they are going to defend the churches until their last breath.
Lubna Thomas Benjamin is freelance writer and 2011-2012 Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow.